En Route to 'Land Without Peace'

Unfortunately, Abbas' move to impose a solution on Israel, without negotiations and without an end to the conflict, is gathering speed.

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Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly, September 26, 2014.
Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly, September 26, 2014.Credit: AFP

In June 1967, Israel won the greatest of its military victories. Three months later, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 242, Israel also secured a diplomatic achievement of the highest order.

In contrast to 1956, when it was required to retreat from all the territory it had conquered in the Sinai Campaign – without peace, without an agreement and without recognition by the Arab states – this time the international community agreed that any withdrawal from the territory Israel captured in the Six-Day War would be implemented only in the framework of an agreement that would establish “a just and lasting peace” between Israel and its neighbors.

Resolution 242 was also based on the principle of land for peace, and its drafters’ intention was that in the framework of a peace agreement, Israel would withdraw from the decisive majority of the land it had captured. Admittedly, the resolution didn’t refer to “all” the territories, and the English version (unlike the French) even omitted the word “the,” referring only to “territories.” But there was never any doubt about the spirit of the decision. As early as 1969, the Rogers Plan, submitted by U.S. President Richard Nixon, was already talking about minor and insignificant changes to the 1967 borders; the Reagan plan later did the same.

Nevertheless, the principle that there would be no withdrawal without an agreed-upon end to the conflict and a peace agreement, and that the final borders – “secure boundaries” – would be determined only through negotiations, was an achievement of unparalleled importance for Israel. A demand raised by every Israeli government, that there should be no withdrawal from the West Bank without an agreement to end the conflict based on direct negotiations between the parties, was embedded in the crucial principle that lay at the basis of Resolution 242.

The willingness of the Western democracies, headed by the United States, to support this principle strongly and consistently stemmed from their recognition that Israel wanted peace – that its people wanted to end the conflict and were willing to make far-reaching concessions for it – and also from their recognition that Israel was the only democratic state in the Middle East.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now leading a move whose goal is to overturn this principle, and effectively to replace Resolution 242 with a new resolution that would impose a solution on Israel, without negotiations and without an end to the conflict. Unfortunately, this move is gathering speed. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that parliament after parliament in Western Europe has adopted resolutions by a large majority calling for unilateral recognition of the state of Palestine. There has been a change for the worse in the general atmosphere, and Israel’s diplomatic standing is steadily being eroded.

The main reason for this isn’t the oil weapon; both the price of oil and its influence have been decreasing. Nor is it anti-Semitism. Rather, it is the growing feeling worldwide that Israel is the party that doesn’t want peace, and that its leaders’ declarations about two states for two peoples are lip service only.

It’s hard to claim that this feeling is groundless. It’s enough to listen to the statements of Habayit Hayehudi ministers Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel, or those of ministers and Knesset members from the ruling Likud party. To these, one must add various bills that undermine Israel’s image as a state with democratic values, a state that respects human rights and the rule of law.

If Israel can’t figure out how to convince its friends abroad that it indeed wants peace, even at the price of painful concessions, and that it is loyal to the values of liberty, justice and equality that are shared by the entire democratic world, it is headed for a severe diplomatic crash. It won’t happen tomorrow or the day after, but the writing is already on the wall.

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